The Dart: Local builder learning something new about old houses each day

Published 9:59 pm Sunday, January 6, 2019

NATCHEZ — When it comes to old houses, they just don’t build them like they used to anymore — which is why local builder, David Martin often has to improvise when he restores historic structures to their former selves.

When The Dart landed on Duncan Avenue Friday afternoon, Martin was doing the same job he has done since he was a teenager in Natchez — which for him is both a blessing and a privilege, he said.

“I started painting antebellum and Victorian houses in Natchez when I was 17 years old,” Martin said. “Now I do everything from carpentering, plumbing, electric — you name it. … I’m a genuine and historic mason. In other words, I use old brick.”

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Martin was measuring out planks of wood to install a beam across the roof of a house, which may have been built in the 1930s, he said.

“(The house) is made of double layer solid walls of brick, and it will go nowhere,” he said.

However, working on antique houses has its challenges, Martin said.

For example, a two by four-inch plank isn’t the same today as it was nearly a century ago, he said. In 2019, a two by four is more like one and a half by three and a half inches, he said, pulling out a measuring tape to show the difference.

Every piece of material that Martin works with must be made to look and feel the same as it did when the house was first built, he said, which requires some extra work in finding and often building the materials himself.

Martin has placed electrical wiring in houses that have pipes running through the ceiling for gas lamps, he said.

Martin said he has worked on so many historic buildings with unique and interesting qualities about each that it would be impossible to for him to name which one he liked best.

“Every antebellum or Victorian house I work on, I always run into something I don’t know,” he said. “And every time I run into something I don’t know, it’s a good day. Right when you think you know it all and you find out you don’t, that is a blessing.”